Maka Ska artwork honors lake’s Dakota history

public art project Bde Make Ska
Descendants of the Dakota leader Mahpiya Wicasta will speak on June 8 at the dedication of a public art project commemorating the village he founded on the shores of Bde Maka Ska in August 1829. Photo by Alex Smith

Displayed on the southeast bank of Bde Maka Ska is a tribute to what the area once was.

A new public art project honors Heyata Otunwe, a Dakota community that existed in the 1830s, and its leader, Mahpiya Wicasta (Cloud Man). A public dedication will be held at 10:30 a.m. on June 8, with music, comments from descendants and artists, and family activities. The art project is located near the parking lot at West 36th Street and Richfield Road.

Artists Mona Smith, Sandy Spieler and Angela Two Stars collaborated on the project. Two Stars, a descendant of Mahpiya Wicasta, said she found the project especially meaningful.

“It’s been so informative and rewarding. Before this, I didn’t know much about the leader, basically all I knew was his name,” she said. “It’s been a really fulfilling experience for me and my family.”

The project includes a website, decorative railing and pavement stamps honoring the Dakota leader and the community that inhabited the area.

Heyata Otunwe (“the village at the side”) was a small agricultural community of Dakota people founded in 1829, near the site of the new artwork. Mahpiya Wicasta was urged to try “white man’s farming” by Indian Agent Lawrence Taliaferro, who supplied the village with seeds, draft animals and plows. Villagers grew wild rice, squash, potatoes, corn and other crops for about a decade before abandoning the village at Bde Maka Ska amid fears of conflict with the Ojibwe and misleading promises of treaty payments from whites.

The artwork depicts plants and animals significant to the Dakota and incorporates Dakota words and phrases into the site. Some of the crops grown and harvested at the village are featured as well. The website, which launches on June 8, will feature information about Mahpiya Wicasta, Heyata Otunwe and interviews with descendants and artists.

art project on Bde Maka Ska
A new public art project has popped up on the southeast shore of Bde Maka Ska. The project aims to honor the Dakota community that inhabited this area of the lake in the 1830s.

Two Stars’ children helped inspire her design for the pavement stamps. When her daughter started to hopscotch on her initial designs that were drawn in sidewalk chalk, she knew it would be a great way to engage children in the art.

“It’s been really positive for the community to see another aspect of Native Americans,” Two Stars said.

The idea for this project had been discussed for several years, but didn’t come to fruition until the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board adopted the Bde Maka Ska/Harriet Master Plan in 2017. The plan responded to the strong desire by community members to embrace the natural and human history of the lakes, specifically the Native American history. The artwork was funded through the city’s Art in Public Places Program.

“We heard from the community that they wanted a ‘light touch’ at this site and didn’t want the artworks to overpower the natural surroundings,” said Ann Godfrey, project manager for the City of Minneapolis. “I think the artists created beautiful artwork and also accomplished that goal.”